How does wine from a Washington State winery compare to the other great wine growing regions of the world? It’s a fair question. In fact it’s regularly a topic at the Taste Washington Seminars.
In this example, let’s take a look at Cabernet Franc. Softer than its bold offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon, the two are often blended together. Yet, I enjoy the restraint of Cabernet Franc on its own.
One of the great regions in France for Cabernet Franc is Chinon. Located in the central Loire Valley, it is located on the Vienne River (a tributary of the Loire). This maritime climate is moderated by the Gulf Stream resulting in warm summers and mild falls and winters. The region is sometimes challenged in getting grapes to full ripeness.
For this exercise, we tasted the 2016 vintage the Chinon Tradition from Domaine Pierre Sourdais in the Loire Valley. Of 27 hectares of vines planted exclusively to Cabernet Franc, some are over 60 years old. The soils are indicated as gravel, clay-limestone, and flint clay and they are amended with organic matter. The vintage was fortunate to experience ideal weather conditions at the end of the growing season.
Appearance: bright ruby of medium intensity with a clear rim. Highly reflective. No staining.
Palate: dry. Medium+ tannins. Moderate alcohol. Medium body. Medium+ acid. Medium finish.
Flavor characteristics of bright ripe fruits confirmed: raspberry, strawberry, tayberry, plus pomegranate, blackberry, and black tea.
For comparison, we’ve selected Idiot’s Grace 2013 Estate Cabernet Franc from Memaloose Wines.
I remember my first trip to the Columbia Gorge region by Hood River, and visiting Memaloose Wines. The family speaks at length about their desire to create wines that pair well with food. This is a noble pursuit that can be a challenge in Washington State as the warm growing conditions result in many wines being high in alcohol. This family selected the Gorge as a location to plant vineyards, believing that the climate of the region would enable them to truly emulate European styled wines lower in alcohol. After all, the Gorge is not the desert-like continental climate seen elsewhere in Washington. This maritime region has wide variations in elevation. The Idiot’s Grace Vineyard is actually on the Oregon side of the border at 300 feet and covers 7 acres. The deep soils are rich clay/loam and are organically farmed.
Appearance: bright garnet with ruby tones of medium plus intensity and slight staining.
Palate: dry with medium+ tannins, medium alcohol, medium body, medium+ acid, medium+ finish.
While the nose hinted at herbaceousness, it wasn’t perceived on the palate. Fruit forward with red cherry pie filling, raspberry, and huckleberry. This juicy wine is delightful on its own or paired with food.
I suspect the Memaloose tastes juicier and fruitier due to the younger nature of the vines. The wine doesn’t give me the gravelly characteristics given off the Loire example. Neither one reveals the pyrazine green bell pepper note for which Cabernet Franc is known. I suspect that’s due to warmer growing seasons, and if I recall correctly that vintage in the Gorge got some longer hang time. While each is different, they are equally enjoyable.
Each of the wines was a worthy match for a simple weeknight meal of sautéed onions and red peppers with Italian sausage served over rice.
If your curiosity is piqued about Cabernet Franc from the Northwest, be sure to seek out Memaloose at the Taste Washington Grand Tasting this weekend to taste their latest vintage.